In parallel with the more advanced progress on the Western Section, work is continuing on the Central Section to connect Bedford with Cambridge.
This would enable train services to operate between Oxford and Cambridge and onto Norfolk and Suffolk.
The former railway between Bedford, Sandy and Cambridge was closed in the 1960s and some of the land has been sold and developed for other uses. Within the overall East West Rail project this is therefore the most difficult and costly part of the route to reinstate.
In summer 2016 Network Rail announced that its preferred geographic corridor for the Central Section was via Sandy.
The East West Railway Company are working with Network Rail to develop a number of possible route options within the preferred corridor, in collaboration with local authorities and rail industry stakeholders, to assess their relevant strategic and economic cases. This continues to be work in progress with no decisions yet made regarding what the preferred route may be.
At this early stage of development, route options will not show construction ‘footprints’ or conceptual designs for infrastructure, but are solely an incremental step in the feasibility process to inform the business case analysis. In due course, the preferred route will indicate, in general terms, how the proposed new railway will link the Bedford area to Cambridge.
The current programme would see a preferred route being selected during 2019 following a number of public consultation events which will be publicised in due course.
When will it open?
It was originally planned that trains would be operating on the new railway by the early 2030s. However, following the creation of the East West Railway Company, the Secretary of State has asked for this to be accelerated to the ‘mid 2020s’.
Twenty potential corridors between Bedford and Cambridge were carefully analysed by Network Rail, with input from a very wide range of stakeholders including the local authorities which make up the East West Rail Consortium.
The corridor via Sandy offered the best value in terms of economic benefits, reduced journey time between Oxford and Cambridge, population growth and employment in the area, operating costs for new services and forecast passenger demand. Local infrastructure and the wider impacts of the railway were also considered.
Work is now continuing to identify a more detailed route within this chosen corridor, and following this work, there will be a full public consultation on the proposals.